ISO Camera Settings in Photography {Tips}

Who’s up for another “Tips” blog post? Today I wanted to respond to a question from my good friend Heather from Birmingham. She wrote in response to the Aperture blog post:

“Ben, this is awesome. One thing I hear a lot of different opinions about is ISO. Maybe you could comment on that sometime? I’ve heard some people say that an ISO > 400 is never ideal b/c of “noise” in the background, but if you want an indoor pic sans flash sometimes that’s the only option. Is it possible to use a higher ISO and still get a good quality photo that is able to be enlarged?”

Here’s my video response. (Warning… I have a bit of a cold so I’m a little sniffly… sorry!)

Heather, I disagree with the advice you’ve received. I think it is more preferential than it is rule, opinion rather than principle. I love shooting at higher ISO settings. As a recap from the video, ISO refers to how sensitive the image sensor {in digital photography} is to the available light. The higher the ISO setting, the more sensitive the sensor, resulting in the ability to photograph in lower lighting.When shooting film, ISO refers to the speed of the film, measuring the sensitivity of the negative material (aka film) to light.

Let’s be real practical here for a moment. What if you find yourself in a poorly lit environment & would rather not use your flash, what do you do? You begin by trying to shoot at an ISO setting of about 320. Next, maybe you try to widen your aperture, choosing to shoot at around an f/2. Works pretty good except the shutter speed is still too slow {ex. 1/6} & the subject is somewhat fuzzy. Your next thought needs to be, “let me increase my ISO settings so that I can shoot with a faster shutter speed & get a sharper image.” So you bump your ISO to 800 or 1200 or 1600… whatever you can in order to achieve the look you were going for. My first thought when faced with less than optimal lighting conditions (low light) is always, “can I shoot with a wider aperture?” Thus allowing more light to enter the lens. If that doesn’t work, I then bump up the ISO setting. For me personally, I’m usually always trying to shoot at the widest aperture possible. Then, depending on the situation, I adjust the ISO.

Below are some images I shot with a really high ISO yet really love the look & feel they portray. Plus, allowing a bit of “noise” in the image gives you an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the always expected.

I referenced this wedding detail image in the video. {ISO 3200, 35mm, f/2.8, 1/500 sec}. This was shot with the Canon 24-70 f/2.8.

{ISO 3200, 24mm, f/2.8, 1/60 sec}

I really love this image. To me it has a strong cinematic feel to it… as though it was taken a long time ago, expressing emotion. I’m not sure it would have the same feel without the grain. {ISO 3200, 40mm, f/2.8, 1/50 sec}

And the same goes for people shots too! When I was photographing these twins I couldn’t really afford to shoot with a lower ISO… it’s one of my favorite images! {ISO 1250, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/320 sec}

As you can tell, I don’t always stray away from shooting at a high ISO setting. In fact, sometimes I prefer it. What do you think? Does this post help you better understand ISO settings? Has it given you a new appreciation for grain/noise in images? Let me know what you think. Thanks friends!

The Story of Two Little White Boxes

Monday morning I kept the boys so Joy could go for a visit. When she returned home, she brought me two boxes. Inside the bottom box there were two white Chocolate covered strawberries. In the top one, the same, except with sprinkles. She then explained, “the strawberries in the bottom box represent the two beautiful little boys you’ve already given me. The top represents our next little baby we will have in August!!”

That’s right friends. Apparently, the Lord is blessing us with another little Finch. We will officially transition from man-to-man defense to zone coverage. What can I say? There’s always room for one more! Now… ya’ll go ahead & let us know when you’ll babysit!

Brandon & Christie Engagement {Sweetwater, TN}

If you’ve ever found yourself in route on I-75 between Knoxville & Chattanooga, you’ve passed by the somewhat quiet town of Sweetwater, TN. Downtown Sweetwater is a welcome surprise to those who venture just a few short miles off the Interstate. There’s a plethora of antique shops, among my personal favorites, Bobby Todd {of which, I recently photographed their home for At Home TN Magazine… can’t wait to show you… coming up in the February issue}.  And there’s food. You’d find it hard to beat Hunter’s Bakery & Cafe located on Main St. I love the feeling as you stroll through the shops on Main, as though you’ve found yourself in a much simpler life.

It’s no wonder then that Brandon & Christie wanted to do their engagement shoot here. Plus, they are both from Sweetwater. Brandon keeps the streets under control as a police officer & Christie is a Pharmacy Tech in this cozy town. On Friday afternoon I met up with the couple & we spent time enjoying the sunny, yet frigid weather. We visited an antique store, stopped for coffee, chatted with locals & more. It was perfect; they were perfect! I’m still smiling about it!

I arrived with a few minutes to spare so I took a short walk around the block to capture some details. I recall reading the story of a train conductor, when asked how many people live in Sweetwater, he responded, “Just raise your window and count them! They all gather at the station to see if any strangers come to town or if anyone leaves town when the train arrives!”
My favorite part! I loved seeing Christie & Brandon interact. I can’t wait to shoot their wedding in April.
We paused for a coffee break at Hunter’s.
Love the feel of these!
As far as I’m concerned, they are the “Best in Town.”
This next set really makes me smile. I love how Christie really starts laughing.
Yep… that’s what I love!
Once we started laughing, we didn’t stop. I’m sure I said something rather entertaining & endearing… okay, maybe not, but anyways.
I’ve always loved this cozy cottage just steps from downtown. I couldn’t resist. Apparently, someone currently lives there. Whoops.

Brandon & Christie… I think you guys are made for one another. I’m so excited to be your photographer. Thank you!!

Aperture in Photography {Tips}

As promised, I thought I would start writing & organizing some content to provide insight on photography, how-to’s, business, resources, etc. Today’s post is in response to a question asked on Facebook concerning depth of field, aka aperture. Chris sent the following:

“I have been trying to get some new pictures of our staff here at NHBC. I have in mind that we use a brick wall or some outdoor shot. I really like the effect of the background being out of focus and the person in the foreground being sharply in focus, giving a bit of depth to the picture. The…re’s a guy in the church that does a lot of photography and has been trying to get me what I want, but it isn’t working out. He keeps trying to take pics of us, cut us out, and place us in another pic that he took as a background and has blurred. He does this in Photoshop, but it really doesn’t look good. I’ve seen this effect on many of your photos (i.e. – “The Roberts” pics on your blog) and it looks incredible. Is there anything I can do to get this effect with my Canon digital SLR? I only have the one lens that can with it (18-55, I think). Any tips would be much appreciated!”

On a side note, you should’ve seen me trying to make this movie to explain the contents of this post. Tragic! This is much more challenging than I thought. As a lesson in humility I thought I would leave it up & let you watch (the picture below links to my YouTube video). A bit of a glitch in the first 2-3 seconds but it clears up afterward.

What is an Aperture? Depending on what you are wanting to capture affects what aperture you choose. Simply put, aperture is a term that describes how wide or narrow the lens opens. This affects what part of the image stays in focus. It almost deals exclusively with your lens not your camera body. Many people, when referring to aperture, use the term depth-of-field.  In short, if you want very little to be in focus, with the exception of the subject, you want a big aperture (low number… f/1.2, 2.0, etc.). In contrast, if you want everything to be equally in focus, you are looking for a small aperture (high number… f/16, 20, etc.). You will be limited to how wide & narrow of an aperture you can shoot by your lens. I made the statement in the video, “Generally speaking, the wider the aperture, the more expensive the lens will be.” That’s not necessarily the case; I clarify. Yet, the wider the aperture, the more flexibility you have over your images. I’ll show a few select images for further clarification.

Consider these images of Isabelle, you’ll see the focus is on her eyes & the rest of the focus falls apart, blurring as it moves away from her eyes. That blur is called “Bokeh.” This was shot at the widest aperture my lens allows, f/1.2. {ISO 500, 50mm, f/1.2, 1/250sec}

Same here in this pic of my son, Brennan. Specs {ISO 1500, 50mm, f/1.2, 1/250sec}

In shots with more than one person, I generally try to get everyone on the same plane & shoot with as wide an aperture as possible. Yet, you must be careful as you want everyone to be in focus. Specs {ISO 800, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/500 sec}.

Another example from the same wedding. Specs {ISO 400, 50mm, f/1.8, 1/640 sec}

In contrast, in this picture I was shooting an interior for a magazine. For these types of shots, I want everything to be in focus… as clean & sharp as possible. My aperture, therefore, is as narrow as I could achieve. Specs {ISO 200, 24mm, f/22, 5.0 sec}

Is this starting to make sense? The more narrow the aperture, the more things will be in focus in the image. If you want to achieve a “bokeh” effect, you may want to invest in a lens that allows a wider aperture (lower number).

A few links explaining aperture in further detail:

A few lens resources I mentioned in my video:

Hope that helps friends… let me know what you think. Comment like you mean it!! If you have further questions, I’ll try to answer as soon as I can. Thanks!

My Favorite

Our oldest son, Brennan, has a phrase he uses all the time… I mean, all the time. “Mommy, that’s my favorite _______ in the whole wide world!” Or, “Daddy, that’s not my favorite.” Tonight I was getting his pajamas on, he said, “Daddy is the funniest person in the whole wide world. He’s so silly… he’s my favorite.” A huge grin came upon my face; I love words of affirmation… especially from my family.

Almost 2 years ago, I quit my steady well-paying job in order to pursue my dreams & go full-time with both of my businesses. In choice words similar to Brennan, it’s been one of my favorite decisions. I love it. Better than that, I have a family who I adore like crazy. They’re my most favorite. And, I’ve been so deeply blessed with wonderfully supportive & loyal friends & clients. They’re my favorites too. Yet, every now & again I have one (or two or three) of those days when things don’t seem to go the way I had hoped. I end up disappointed, sometimes hurt, & occasionally question myself. That’s not my favorite.

But at the end of the day, I’m reminded at how thankful I am. I turn around & see one of my favorite people in the world standing at the door waiting for his daddy. He’s patiently ready for my love & attention. I push aside the unending tasks & get ready for my “real” job. After all, it’s my favorite!

And, if you’re curious about what happened shortly after letting Knox into my office, check out this video: Knox… jumping off the ledge.